As a mother of 4 boys, I remember vividly the dread I felt when taking my children out en masse, as they would inevitably argue, physically fight, be noisy, could not sit still for 5 minutes and drive me to distraction! I can recall being quite jealous of my friends who had girls whose day trips were so different to mine, their daughters would play nicely, were quite willing to sit still for periods of time (like lunchtime), were not running round shouting and fighting and on the whole were much more reasonable human beings than my rabble!
But having spent so many years in child care and education I ask myself are the differences between boys and girls really that great? Or is our biological determinism more of a self-fulfilled prophecy?
What does the research say about Boys and Girls?
Neuroscience tells us that yes: boys and girls are different. Boys’ brains are larger, but girls’ brains grow faster and typically their interests and learning styles vary somewhat. But are these differences as significant as we once thought?
New studies tell us that it is the environment that we create for our children that has the greatest impact on the way they learn and what they learn.
Within the childcare and education environment, we are, a female dominated environment, and unfortunately it’s still a rare sight to see a male member of staff in the team. However, men bring so many different aspects of play to all the children in our care, and especially to boys. It’s probably fair to say some, although not all, female practitioners find it hard to understand the need for joining in with some of this more robust play. They don’t want to run around and play Super heroes or to be Ninja Turtles or Star Wars characters with light sabers fighting the enemy. Very often they will be found playing quietly in the construction area, sitting at the water tray asking thought provoking questions that will enhance children’s learning or admiring a fantastic piece of art work, but not (generally) running round like mad things with the boys (and men!).
When you work in an early years environment you become familiar with these differences but don’t always know what or how to manage this. For example:
- How many times have you told the boys playing with the cars, trains or bricks to take them back to the corner of the room that you set them up in, as they seem to have spread themselves all over the room and are getting in the way of the other children?
- How many times have you told the boys playing Super heroes, “we don’t fight at nursery, we don’t have guns at nursery, walk don’t run you’ll hurt yourself?”
- How many times have you told the boys at circle time to sit still, listen, look – where are your listening ears, show me your good sitting and so on and so forth?
For many females, our impatience with how boys learn and behave never really leaves us and we apply the same thinking to our boyfriends, husbands or partners in adult hood. How many times have you asked your male partner, “will you empty the bins please?” to be told, “yes I will”, but an hour later the bins remain full while your partner is watching the football, or doing something he considers far more important that requires his full attention? You find yourself asking again and again, and in the end do it yourself! but this really is the joy of boys, both young and adult, there is always something more important to do than what you have asked them to do, and besides they know if they put it off long enough someone else will do the job for them!
However – it is us females that need to readjust our thinking in order to get the result that we want.
If research tells us that it is the environment that we bring our children up in that has the most impact, we, as practitioners need to change our approach to the boys in our care, we need to understand better how to encourage boys to learn and we need to learn to give boys the space they need, the rough and tumble they need, and the physical activity they need to hone all the skills they need to listen and learn effectively. Coincidentally we’ve put together a training course that is designed to help us understand some of the differences in brain development and look at strategies that will support all children to be confident learners. You can read more about that course right here.
About the author: Jo Lynton